Saudi figure skater nurtures Olympic dream

Time: 04 August, 2020

Malak Al-Shaya says when in the ice rink everything feels ‘magical’ around her. (Photo/Supplied)
  • The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova

JEDDAH: A Saudi teen who picked up ice skating three years ago at a friend’s birthday party is now dreaming of taking part in the Olympic Games.

“It all started at my friend’s birthday party three years ago where we ice skated and I fell in love with the sport. I started going every day after that. My mom signed me up for classes when she saw my love for the sport,” Malak Al-Shaya told Arab News.
She said: “My mom was the one that encouraged me. At that birthday party, my mom and the coach said I was a natural because I just went for it.”
She came 4th at the Houston Invitational 2020 in March. She said that she will work harder next year to win first place.
The 13-year-old hopes to emulate the Russian figure skaters Elena Radionova and Alexandra Trusova who inspired her and even to get to the Olympics.
“I’ll work on ice and off ice. I want to be like Alexandra Trusova, who makes it look so elegant,” she said.

Gliding on the ice, Al-Shaya said she feels like everything is “magical.”
The young figure skater is aware that the sport is not the most popular in the Kingdom, but she encourages those wishing to master it.
“Just go for it. If you are willing to work hard you can achieve anything,” she said.
She has received a lot of encouragement on social media to pursue her passion in figure skating.
Al-Shaya’s mother, Eman Al-Damegh, shared her daughter’s love story. “At that birthday party, it was the first time Malak ever ice skated. After that, my kids used to ask me to take them ice skating every day,” she said.

FASTFACT

• Malak Al-Shaya won 4th place at the Houston Invitational 2020.

• Al-Shaya started ice skating three years ago.

• The teen’s coach says her speed is impressive, and it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is naturally able to control comfortably.

She said that her daughter came from a background, which lacked the facilities for the sport, but was “a natural” straightaway.
“She had never been ice skating before, she started it at such a young age. We used to live in Qassim where there were no ice skating arenas at all,” said Al-Damegh.
She added: “The moment Malak set foot inside the rink, she just took off. I was so surprised, she didn’t hesitate at all, she was so daring that day. And there I was wondering what would happen on ice (before she started).”
According to her proud mother, Al-Shaya has all the capabilities required for this sport and possesses the sense of daringness that skating requires.
The teen’s coach told Al-Damegh that her daughter’s speed was impressive, adding that it takes them years to teach a student to reach the speed that she is “naturally able to control comfortably.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Art and passion: Creative secrets of the Kiswa calligrapher

Time: 30 July, 2020

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.  (Supplied/ Reuters)
  • Mokhtar Alim Shokder tells Arab News about his remarkable journey and influences

RIYADH: With a steady and sturdy hand, a calligrapher’s passion and commitment to the art of the written word can be displayed through various mediums, but none more honorable than displaying that passion on the Holy Kaaba’s Kiswa (curtain).

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years, which landed him the prestigious and honorable position he is in today.

As a third-grader, he joined a three-month calligraphy course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. At the outset, he showed extraordinary skills, which impressed his teachers, and he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.

With practice and determination, Shokder fell more in love with calligraphy and felt happier when his skills improved.

“I would practice for long hours each day because I loved Arabic calligraphy. My classmates would come and ask for tips on how to improve their handwriting,” he recalled. “I felt overjoyed, with a strong drive to perfect my skills. My colleagues and I would spend long hours training nonstop, with full focus on the tasks at hand to perfect our work.”


Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.
(Supplied/ Reuters)

His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of “hooks” on the ends of ascending and descending strokes, considered to be one of the earliest forms of Islamic calligraphy and which is used in the Holy Qur’an. However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

Shokder said that Kiswa writing methods had developed immensely, noting that the calligraphy takes a lot of time and requires patience and precision.

He was influenced by several calligraphers, especially the 19th-century Ottoman calligrapher Sami Efendi, whose works were prominent during his time for its attractive design for vowel signs, decorations, and numbers. Heavily influenced by his work, Shokder was impressed the first time he saw one of Efendi’s works, calling him a role model for all calligraphers.

After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills. He said he benefited most from Muhammad Hassan Abu Al-Khair, a professor at the department and a famous calligrapher known to participate in several competitions and exhibitions.

FASTFACTS

  • As a third-grader, Mokhtar Alim Shokder joined a short course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • Due to his extraordinary skills, he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.
  • After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills.
  • His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

“The artistic works need a lot of patience and precision. For example, to write five words using calligraphy can take you two to three months and sometimes longer,” said Shokder. “It is the execution of the work that takes a long time. Some people think that such an artwork that has three words can take an hour but this is not true.”

According to Shokder, calligraphers will spend long hours working and have to bear the pressure associated with executing such works, to hone and perfect skills with years of practice and training.

In 2003, he was appointed the sole calligrapher for the Kiswa, a position his father saw in a dream, a moment he cherishes deeply. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life and a great blessing from God, for which I will always be indebted. My father’s dream came true,” he said.

The methods of writing on the Kiswa have developed over the years. The late calligrapher Abdulraheem Ameen Bokhari, Shokder’s predecessor, used chalk to write the script on the silk cloth. In later years, silk-screen printing was introduced which allows the calligrapher to save the script and preserve it on a computer, a method which allowed the Kiswa’s calligrapher to improve the script.


Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.
(Supplied/ Reuters)

“In older times, ink was used to write the words on papers, then the edges of the letters would be punched with a needle, the papers would be placed on a black fabric, the surface of which would be used for writing,” said Shokder. “Later, a transparent bag made of cloth would be filled with white powder that would be used together with the papers to punch letters on. An embroiderer would use a thread to identify the outside edges of each letter then start his process of embellishing.”

Shokder noted that the process of developing the writing methods was only approved after thorough studies had been conducted on the methods.

Writing on the Kiswa requires strong skills and long hours of training to master the skill. Another challenging part of his job would be the compound and overlapping texts, which require the calligrapher to try several times before reaching the desired outcome, which should be beautiful and with the logical order of words and combine all the elements of the art.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab nations cannot afford to ignore the rise of women’s football

Time: 29 July, 2020

The women’s game in the region cannot afford to fall behind much longer. (FILE/AFP)
  • The 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is unlikely to see any teams from West Asia
  • The desire to accelerate the progress of women’s football can be seen across grass roots level

DUBAI: On Sept. 25, 2005, a football match that few people will remember or even have heard of, took place in Amman, with hosts Jordan comfortably thrashing an overwhelmed Bahrain 9-0.

But the result mattered little. This was a football match with a difference for the beaten team; it was the first time that Bahrain’s national women’s team – established in 2003 – had taken to a football field.

Women’s football had taken its first, small step in the GCC. It was only a matter of time before Gulf nations would follow other more established football neighbors like Jordan and Egypt in developing the women’s game.

But while Bahrain and UAE have followed in those footsteps, things haven’t exactly progressed elsewhere.

Fifteen years on, a revolution is taking place in women’s football. But it’s a revolution that seems to be going under the radar in the majority of the GCC, Arab countries and the Middle East at large.

On June 25, 2020, the announcement that Australia and New Zealand will co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was warmly welcomed across the globe. More than a month on, the news has barely made any waves in the region, especially considering one of the co-hosts, Australia, is a fellow Asian Football Federation (AFC) member state.

The 2023 World Cup will also see the number of participating nations expanded from 24 to 32, in line with the men’s competition, though the extra qualifying opportunities are unlikely to vastly improve the chances of Arab nations.

Across Asia, teams like Japan and China, as well as North Korea and South Korea, have for long been powerhouses in the women’s game, and now Vietnam, Thailand and Uzbekistan are increasingly looking to close the gap on the heavyweights of Europe and the Americas as well. For now, the West Asian region is being left further behind.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the women’s game has not captured the imagination, or even mere attention, of the regional public. No Arab nation has ever taken part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup since its inception in 1988, and only a few ever make the AFC Asian Cup. Women’s football, for long a traditional taboo, remains a novelty even in these days of cultural progress. That remains the case beyond this region.

At the same time, any criticism for lack of the progress of the women’s game must come with acknowledgement of the socio-political environment, and hardships, that prevail in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. In many cases, football and sports in general, for men as much as women, are fraught with political and cultural obstacles which render them of secondary concerns.

But perhaps that is as good a reason as any to ensure the current rise of women’s football does not become the latest wasted opportunity; it’s not just the sporting aspect of women’s game that female athletes would be missing out on.

In recent years, women’s football has become a driving force for equal rights in sports, and beyond, something many regional nations are striving to put right.

In particular, the 2019 World Cup in France was a revelation, a true game-changer for the women’s game at so many levels. There were record attendances and worldwide record television audiences and perhaps for the first time ever, the tournament was enjoyed without the usual, stereotypical caveats.

Even the previous World Cup, in Canada in 2015, had seen major steps taken in the women’s game, with the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) as ever, leading the way.

American captain and star of the last year’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe, has for one transcended the sport to become a role model for aspiring female athletes and one of football’s most vocal advocates for women’s empowerment.

Ahead of winning the 2023 bid, Australia’s women’s team, the Westfield Matildas, took on Football Federation Australia and Fifa to achieve equal pay with their male counterparts. On Nov. 6, 2019 they won their case and the next World Cup will now stand as a beacon of gender equality and non-discrimination for female footballers.

It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect such giant steps to take place across nations were women’s football remains embryonic, and nor is there is a complete lack of interest by West Asian federations in promoting the game in countries like UAE, Jordan and Bahrain, and with Saudi Arabia indicating huge leaps in the coming years too.

Jordan remains the highest women’s FIFA-ranked Arab nation at 58, and thanks to the work of former FIFA Vice President Prince Ali bin Hussein and the Jordan Football Association, the team has won several regional tournaments and competed at continental level. And in captain Stephanie Al Naber, who had a spell playing at Danish club Fortuna Hjørring 10 years ago, they have a role model that young Jordanian footballers can aspire to emulate.

In 2018, the Women’s Asian Cup was held at Amman International Stadium and King Abdullah II Stadium in the Jordanian capital, two years after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup had been a success. Jordan, as hosts, were the only Arab representatives in either competition.

In the UAE, a program of training for talented young Emirati girls over the last decade has raised the profile of the women’s national team, with age group selections taking part in invitational tournaments in Asia and Europe.

Having established a women’s team in 2004, a year after Bahrain, the UAE won the West Asia Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Championship in 2010 and 2011, albeit with a team of mostly nationalised foreign players. Last year in Bahrain, fielding a team of Emirati players, the UAE finished fourth.

The desire to accelerate the progress of women’s football can be seen across grass roots level as well.

The UAE Football Association (UAE FA) has provided significant funding for the national team programs, as well as the seven-team domestic league, with Houriya Al Taheri – coach and technical director with the UAE FA – and Omar Al Duri, formerly a coach with Ghana’s World Cup squad, exerting a positive influence on a team now ranked 97 in the world, 13 behind Bahrain at 84.

In Saudi Arabia, Saja Kamal, a footballer with a massive online following has been leading a campaign to establish a senior national team in the Kingdom, and like Naber and Al Taheri, is a role model in her own right.

Women were only allowed into Saudi football stadiums as recently as 2017, but progress has accelerated in recent times. Earlier this year, an official women’s league was launched in the Kingdom that aims to encourage participation at grassroots and community level.

The 2023 World Cup may come too soon to see an Arab team taking part in Australia and New Zealand. But it should be seen as an unmissable opportunity to learn the lessons that other nations have taken on board, and plan ahead.

Perhaps regional countries could follow suit and co-host international tournaments. That would easily be within the capabilities of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Staging such competitions would indicate a commitment to the women’s game and to gender equality. Above all, it will bring the game closer to young female football fans.

The women’s game in the region cannot afford to fall behind much longer.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Roaa Qattan, Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach

26/07/20

Roaa Qattan. (Supplied)

  • Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC

Roaa Qattan is an Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach. In February, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) launched the Women’s Football League (WFL), the first of its kind in the Kingdom, to develop the sport for Saudi women and promote inclusivity.
Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and selected to lead Arabic training sessions as part of the international UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.
Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers a chance to those who wish to join the Green Team in its Arabic training sessions.
“We were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030,” she said.
Qattan completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting from King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) in 2005. In 2011, she received an open water diver’s license from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors in Jeddah. She holds an INSEP diploma of sport sciences and has a C-license from the Asian Football Confederation, which she earned in 2018.
She is the founder of the Jeddah Wave football team and has been coaching teams since its establishment in 2018. A year later, she joined Green Team, the official women’s football team representing Saudi Arabia for the Global Goals World Cup, and helped coach it.
She was named best physical education teacher in the Arab region at the Women Sport Conference in Cairo in 2019.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia launches huge global sports project: Mahd Sports Academy

Time: 24 July, 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with Minister for Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal. (Supplied)
 
  • The Kingdom’s Sports Ministry plans to harness talent in Saudi youth from a very early age

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s remarkable sporting transformation of recent years is set to continue with the launch of a brand new venture called the Mahd Sports Academy, through support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The interest of Saudi Twitter users was piqued last week when a new account started to publish videos hinting at a new project, with the Kingdom’s Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal promoting the content from his personal account with a caption: “The time has come.”


The Mahd Sports Academy launched its own account by tweeting: “A lot was lost and the time has come to make up for everything.” 



The tweet was followed by a snapshot of a little girl telling the world that her dreams would not be relinquished. A clip of a small boy holding a football was also shared on the social media platform, with the caption: “The time has come to shout your name”. Just a day ago, the same account shared a video of a little girl holding a tennis racket, and finally, one of a boy in the pool.

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, the Mahd Sports Academy will be available to all Saudi children starting from the age of 6, and according to Arab News sources, the academy will be accessible to both genders.

The Kingdom’s Sports Ministry plans to harness talent in Saudi youth from a very early age, under the supervision of highly experienced technical and administrative experts and in accordance with the latest international practices and techniques.

The Mahd Sports Academy, which will be revealed during the coming week, will be one of the largest sports academies in the world, aiming at building a new generation of Saudi sporting champions over the coming years, in major regional, continental and global events.

Through nurturing young Saudi talent and giving it the best opportunity to flourish, the Kingdom hopes to improve on its sporting record in events such as the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games.

Since the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program, the Kingdom has witnessed a remarkable shift in the sporting sector by creating a global professional climate to attract the world’s attention, diversifying the economy’s resources and creating a sport-practicing vibrant community.

This shift has seen the Kingdom host major sporting events, such as the Spanish and Italian Super Cups, the Dakar Rally, Formula E and the World Heavyweight Boxing championship.

And hoping to tap into this shift, Prince Abdulaziz has, since his appointment as Minister of Sports in December 2018, worked with the Director General of the Saudi Arabian Leadership Institute, Abdullah bin Faisal Hammad and the Ministry of Education to work with physical education teachers and schoolchildren aged 6 years old and above in discovering and promoting talent in cities across Saudi Arabia.

This is the first step in building future champions. After discovering the talent, they will then work with veteran coaches who will then be recruited for all games, for both genders. Training will begin for these kids in their cities until they reach the age at which they can register in clubs and teams.

The Ministry of Sports has also concluded more than 40 agreements with sports universities, in which Saudi students have been enrolled to obtain important programs and diplomas, such as Real Madrid University, the prestigious Harvard University, and the Dutch University of Johan Cruyff, with the aim of obtaining qualifications that will benefit Saudis over time.

Saudi Arabia is hoping for a sporting boom, which may change the course of sport in the Kingdom a decade from now, with ideal timing that corresponds with Vision 2030’s aim for attracting investment from around the world into new projects such as NEOM, Al Qiddiya, Al-Ula, Red Sea and Downtown Jeddah.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Sports for All Federation leads surge in local women’s sports

Time: 24 July, 2020

Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)
  • Fitness initiatives ‘will build a stronger, healthier Kingdom’

JEDDAH: Women’s sport in Saudi Arabia is flourishing, with Ministry of Sports estimates showing that female participation has increased by nearly 150 percent in the past five years.

From beginners to fitness fans, women are discovering and benefiting from the perks of an active and healthy lifestyle.

This surge in interest can be attributed to many factors, including better knowledge of healthy lifestyles, increased opportunities to take part in activities, and a growing number of inspirational role models.

Under Vision 2030, and specifically the Quality of Life program, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) is working to increase weekly sports participation to 40 percent by 2030, by introducing a more inclusive sports environment, and encouraging girls and women to take up a sport.

SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal said: “Championing a healthy and active community means that we help to provide all members of Saudi society with access to high-quality opportunities to discover their love of fitness.”

He added: “The SFA is mandated with increasing participation in physical activity, and with women leading this national drive we are well positioned to meet the goals outlined by Vision 2030, closely supported by the Quality of Life program, the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.”

In February, the SFA inaugurated the Kingdom’s first Women’s Football League (WFL) to meet the need for community-level football.

“Having a women’s football league is a huge boost for female football. We have been playing football, forming leagues and training since 2007, without any tangible support,” said Rawh Abdullah Alarfaj, the SFA’s special projects manager.

“This is an opportunity for players of every level who are looking for an organized league under an official umbrella, and for coaches and referees who need to be recognized. The league also offers a great structure for clubs who have been established for a long time but have struggled to run effectively due to limited access to equipment, a field or a proper system where they can compete fairly. This league will open doors for any woman who has an interest in football.”

Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)

Football is the most popular sport across the Kingdom, and the WFL — the nation’s first community women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above.

The launch of the WFL followed the success of the Saudi Greens women’s football team, another initiative overseen by the SFA. Formed in 2018, the Saudi Greens competed in the UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 (GGWCP), where they claimed second place. It was the first time a Saudi women’s community sports team had taken part in an international event.

On representing her country overseas, coach Maram Adel Albutairi said: “It was an awesome experience in terms of learning how to connect our passion for sport with goals that affect our society, country and the world. Being part of the first team to compete internationally was an honor and a dream come true.”

Fellow coach Lujain Kashgari described her pride at Saudi Arabia’s achievements, starting at the community sports level. “The SFA makes huge efforts to use sports as a power to encourage society to develop a healthy and fit lifestyle,” she said.

Roaa Qattan, Albutairi and Kashgari are the only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and have attended specialized training courses in football coaching. They have been selected to lead the Arabic training sessions as part of the international GGWCP Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.

Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers an excellent opportunity to join the Green Team in its current Arabic training sessions.

BACKGROUND

Under Vision 2030, and specifically, the Quality of Life program, the Saudi Sports for All Federation is working to increase weekly sports participation to 40 percent by 2030.

“Albutairi, Kashgari and I were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and the SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030.”

Saudi women are starting to show what they can achieve in sports.

Osamah Saleh, SFA director of marketing and communications, said: “With investment at a local level, positive role models and continued support from the SFA in the form of innovative campaigns and events, the rise of female Saudi sports stars will be unstoppable.

“We know the sport is about much more than excelling. Everyone has their personal goal — from increasing their step count to committing to exercising three times a week — and the SFA is there to help women at the critical community and grassroots level.”

To maintain momentum in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the SFA promoted a “Your Home, Your Gym” campaign, aimed at encouraging people to get active while they stayed at home. Leading sports personalities were recruited as ambassadors, including leading female trainers to engage more women and offer home workout options.

The SFA also held the first Saudi Women’s Fitness Festival (WFF) in June — a three-day virtual event with sessions on nutrition, fitness, virtual workouts and thought leadership discussions.

Yasmine Hassan from Jeddah, one of the new wave of Saudi fitness coaches building online followings, said that an invitation to become an SFA ambassador meant a lot.

“Collaborating with entities such as the SFA means I can continue to grow and improve myself, both personally and professionally. I enjoy challenges and look forward to opportunities where I can
share my experience. Sport is a lifestyle and I want to encourage everyone, especially women, to get active.”

Hatoon Kadi, a WFF panel moderator, blogger, scriptwriter and presenter of YouTube’s “Noon Al-Niswa,” said the festival provided a great opportunity for women and girls to hear directly from female sporting role models.

“Being active and playing sports is beneficial for both mental and physical well-being, but now it can also become a career. The Women’s Fitness Festival provided the opportunity to hear first-hand how women who are already successful in their chosen sport combine fitness with motherhood, how they have overcome certain barriers, and how they got started on their fitness journey.”

Najia Al-Fadl, head trainer at Jeddah’s SheFit gym, also took part in a WFF panel discussion


Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)

“There are more clubs for girls these days and more are on the way, which is good progress,” she said. “We have to support women who want to take up a sport, whether it is a hobby, a lifestyle or a career. There have been so many changes in recent years and now there are a lot more opportunities, thanks to the SFA.”

In March, the SFA launched Girls’ National Sports Days (GNSD) in the Kingdom, which ran over a six-week period with 24,000 students from 499 schools taking part.

The program’s lead coach has more 25 years’ experience in delivering and developing the program globally, as well as the pilot project in Saudi Arabia in 2018.

Designed to achieve the Vision 2030 Quality of Life goals of enhancing girls’ sports participation within schools and promoting female inclusion in sport, the program is designed to encourage students to improve their health, fitness and sports participation, while giving participants the chance to experience different sports.

“From the girls’ smiles, laughter and chanting as they cheered on their teammates, it was clear that they all thoroughly enjoyed the Girls’ National Sports Days,” said Kirsten Butler, the project director.

By encouraging sports from a young age for girls, Saudi Arabia will become a healthier, stronger country, she said.

From these SFA-led initiatives, it is clear that women are eager to become more involved in sport. Whether providing opportunities at the community and grassroots level, establishing leagues, or working with female role models, the SFA is laying a solid foundation that encourages women from all walks of life to take up sport.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Princess Reema bint Bandar appointed member of International Olympic Committee

Time: 18 July, 2020

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan has been elected as a member for International Olympic Committee (IOC) during its session on Friday. (Twitter: @alekhbariyatv)
  • Princess Reema has been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US since February 2019
  • Also elected to the IOC was Sebastian Coe, the head of World Athletics, and four others

JEDDAH: Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud has been elected as member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during its session on Friday.

“Honored to be elected as a member of IOC. Thank you to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, HRH Crown Prince, and Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal (president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee) for their support. It has been an honor to serve my community through the universal language of sports,” said the princess on her official Twitter account.

Five candidates — three women and two men — have been nominated for membership by the IOC executive board.

The 136th IOC session chaired by its president, Dr. Thomas Bach, was held virtually on Friday, and voted in Princess Reema as the first Saudi women to hold this post. Princess Reema is the third Saudi in this position after the late Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (1983-1999), and Prince Nawwaf bin Faisal bin Fahd Al Saud (2001-2014).

Also elected to the IOC was Sebastian Coe, the head of World Athletics, former Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Cuban Olympic Committee (COC) board member Maria de la Caridad Colon Ruenes and acting Mongolian National Olympic Committee president Battushig Batbold.

Princess Reema has been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US since February 2019, and is the first female to hold the post. She attended George Washington University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in museum studies.

In October 2018, she was appointed president of the Mass Participation Federation, making her the first woman to lead a multi-sports federation in the Kingdom, a role she occupied until her appointment as Saudi ambassador to the US.

Princess Reema has served as a member of the World Bank’s advisory council for the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative since 2017. She has been a member of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee since 2017 and a member of the IOC Women in Sports Commission since 2018.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), thanked King Salman and the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman for their continued support for all sports, both internally and externally.

He congratulated Princess Reema on her election, saying that it confirms the ability of Saudi sports cadres to be present at an international level in organizations such as the IOC, which is the highest sporting authority in the world, where she, along with her colleagues, can work towards promoting Olympic values in Saudi Arabia and the world.

This article was first published in Arab News

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For the love of the game: Saudi women’s football teams ready to return

13/07/20

‘The Kingdom has transformed massively in every way when it comes to female sports in general’
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s female football players are gearing up for a return to the pitch after months of lockdown.

The coronavirus curfew had a massive impact on the sports industry, from gym closures to teams stopped from group training. But the growth project in the Kingdom’s sports sector, women’s football clubs, have found generous support from the Saudi Football Federation that enabled teams to gain more knowledge until they were ready to return to action.
A financial analyst by day and coach and manager by afternoon, Maram Al-Butairi said that football had always been a special sport for women in the Kingdom. The Eastern Flames’ manager helped establish one of the Eastern Province’s top teams and found great interest from many women around her.
“I was surprised to hear my friend’s mother telling a story of how she and her friends and cousins used to play football in one of the fields and having a league,” she told Arab News. “I am not sure when exactly women’s football was established in the Kingdom, but definitely before the 1980s. Not knowing about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Women’s football clubs began emerging around 2012 and 2013, gaining momentum over time as well as the support of senior members in leadership and society.
“We started inviting teams to our league and tournaments. Before that, we used to only invite footballers from Bahrain because it’s closer to the Eastern Province. In 2012-2013, we decided to invite people from all over the country and we had two teams coming from Riyadh and staying in the province for three days.
“It was the first time seeing that football was becoming something you would travel for, because a normal team would usually have at least 12 players (including the coach), and we had eight teams. It was a huge event. All those women asked their families to go and be part of this tournament. I would say that was the emergence of women’s football for us.”
A growing number of female players have honed their skills, allowing them to not just get better at the game but being able to share their knowledge and more.
2020 was going to be the year for female football players to shine but the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the Kingdom and, as a precautionary measure, everything was put on hold. But the lockdown did not bring the sport to a standstill.
“The Kingdom has transformed massively in every way when it comes to female sports in general,” Al-Butairi said. “In football, during the lockdown, they realized that it was an opportunity to take advantage of since everyone was at home. They were eager to know more about football and they introduced many courses.”
One of the most highly anticipated virtual courses set to go live this week will be with former German player and Germany’s women’s national team assistant coach, Britta Carlson, who will be giving a lecture on the German methodology of physical fitness and technical preparation for women’s football.
“I’m very excited about Britta Carlson’s course. The US women’s football team is the best — they won the World Cup for years in a row — and Germany, Holland and France come pretty close. It is good to learn from the top teams and apply the knowledge to become like them or even better. Why not?”

FASTFACTS
• Established in 2006, the Eastern Province’s Eastern Flames was the first Saudi women’s football team and introduced a youth program in 2018.

• 2020 was going to be the year for female football players to shine but the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the Kingdom and, as a precautionary measure, everything was put on hold.

Another course that was given during the lockdown was by UAE Women’s national team head coach Houriya Taheri.
“She taught us the introduction of coaching. It was a five-day intensive course during Ramadan. We learned all the basics and strategies, and for me, that was amazing because we need to grow the seeds. These are the people that will help women’s football evolve.”
Jeddah Eagle center forward Johara Al-Sudairi viewed the online courses given during lockdown as a “great step forward” as they helped to develop women’s football in the Kingdom.


“There is now more awareness and competition on a higher level,” she told Arab News. “The Jeddah Women’s League has changed things here in Jeddah, and the Women’s Football League will soon change things in the country. Overall things are moving forward in the right direction and the future for female football is bright. I think football was a secret passion for a lot of girls growing up in the past, and those girls paved the way for the next generation to be able to practice the sport we all love. We owe it all to them.”
Jeddah Eagles have resumed physical practice since the lifting of the lockdown and applied all the necessary health precautions, such as checking people’s temperature before they enter the training facility.
Saudi sports journalist Riyan Al-Jidani said the Saudi Football Federation was trying to set a strong foundation for women’s football, just like other Arab countries had done.
“Many people thought that because of the pandemic, everything would stop,” he said. “It was evident that this is wrong because the federation is working hard to develop women’s football despite the difficult circumstances such as COVID-19. These coaching courses are fundamental to develop coaches in the Kingdom. Britta Carlson to teach coaching skills is a wonderful step to establish a strong Saudi women’s teams in the future.
“We want to have uniquely skilled Saudi coaches that even make it abroad. Just like how we use the help of coaches from abroad, we hope to hear that European or American teams, for example, use the help of Saudi coaches in the future. This is
not impossible.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Dakar Saudi Arabia 2021 participants to benefit from wide range of incentives

Time: 09 July, 2020

The Mini of Carlos Sainz crests a dune during the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, January 16, 2020. (AP Photo)
  • Competitors will benefit from a 50 percent discount on registration fees and free fuel throughout the race
  • Dakar Saudi Arabia 2021 will see the debut of Dakar Classic, a new category for vehicles that were designed before 2000 and previously competed in Dakar

RIYADH: New additions and benefits await participants in Dakar Saudi Arabia 2021 as the Kingdom steps up preparations for its second edition of the world’s most challenging race, which runs from Jan. 3 to 15.

The Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation recently opened registration for pilots and their teams.

Competitors will benefit from a 50 percent discount on registration fees and free fuel throughout the race.

Insurance coverage upgrades and attractive registration fees in the SSV category are also among the numerous incentives.

There will also be technical support at the Dakar Service Center, where pilots can benefit from tire services provided by BFGoodrich, oil analysis at Motul and exclusive merchandise at DExT.

The countdown to Dakar Saudi Arabia 2021 started last month when organizers unveiled initial details about the new route, which will begin and end in Jeddah. A rest day is scheduled for Jan. 9 in Hail.

The official announcement also featured the new technical additions and safety regulations that will be introduced in the 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally.

Dakar Saudi Arabia 2021 will see the debut of Dakar Classic, a new category for vehicles that were designed before 2000 and previously competed in Dakar, as well as vintage cars and trucks.

New regulations will include handing out the road book just 10 minutes before the start of the race stages.

Competitors will also receive aural warnings as they approach danger zones to keep them alert and maximize their safety

The inaugural edition of Dakar Saudi Arabia saw 563 pilots from 68 countries register to compete in five categories across 7,500 km of unique terrain throughout the Kingdom’s uncharted desert.

The Dakar Rally is being staged in Saudi Arabia for the second consecutive year as part of a 10-year agreement between the Kingdom and the Amaury Sport Organisation.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The 10 best Arab footballers to play in Europe

01/06/20

As football takes tentative steps back toward normality, we take a look at some of the best Arab talent to make their mark in Europe’s top leagues. (AFP)
  • As football takes tentative steps back toward normality, we take a look at some of the best Arab talent to make their mark in Europe’s top leagues

DUBAI: Germany’s Bundesliga is back. Spain’s La Liga, Serie A in Italy and the English Premier League, and maybe even the Champions League, are set to follow soon.

This means the likes of Mohamed Salah, Riyad Mahrez and others will once again be on our screens chasing some of the game’s top prizes.

As football takes tentative steps back toward normality, we take a look at some of the best Arab talent to make their mark in Europe’s top leagues.

10. Ali Al-Habsi

The only player from the Gulf to make the list, and one of a handful to try his luck abroad, Ali Al-Habsi is nothing short of an icon in his native Oman.

Having started at local club Al-Mudhaiba, his career has seen him play for Norway’s Lyn Oslo before a move to England and stints at Bolton, Wigan (where he won an FA Cup medal despite not playing in the 2013 final against Manchester City), Brighton and Reading. A two-year spell in the Saudi Professional League with Al-Hilal was followed by a return to England and West Brom, where he currently remains at the age of 38.

Admired and loved everywhere he has gone, and a role model and hero in his country and across the Gulf.

9. Mido

Many see this as a career that promised more than it delivered with the much-traveled Egypt international perceived not to have made the most of his undoubted talent during his European journey. Still, he has a track record that few Arab footballers can match, with spells of varying success at Ajax, Marseille, Roma, Tottenham, Middlesbrough and West Ham, among others.

After starting his career in Cairo with Zamalek, Mido made his big move to Europe by joining Genk in Belgium, but really caught the eye at Ajax, where he partnered a young Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack, and won the Eredivisie title in 2001-02.

A turbulent international career brought 51 caps, but he will mostly be remembered by European audiences as a maverick talent with a nomadic streak that never truly settled at any of his clubs.

8. Hakim Ziyech

To many football fans, Hakim Ziyech only came to wider attention in the past two years, but at 27 he is already a veteran of eight years of top-flight football in Holland’s Eredivisie.

After spending two years each at Heerenveen and FC Twente, he truly blossomed after joining Ajax in 2016.

Despite representing the Netherlands at age group levels, the Dutch-born Hakimi eventually chose to play senior international football for Morocco, and in 2018 was part of the team that acquitted itself so well at the World Cup in Russia.

In 2018-29 he delivered some outstanding displays as Ajax progressed to the Champions League semifinal — where they were ultimately beaten in heartbreaking fashion by Tottenham — and also won the Eredivisie title. His performances against Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as his consistency in the Dutch top flight, quickly marked him out as one of  Europe’s hottest prospects. Chelsea emerged as the big winners in the race to sign Ziyech, paying €40 million for his services as of next season.

Holland’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

7. Achraf Hakimi

Another young superstar on the rise. Achraf Hakimi remains officially on the books of Real Madrid — where he had spent a decade as youth and first team player — but has for the past two seasons proved himself as one of the continent’s finest right-backs with Borussia Dortmund.

His forays into the opposition half and goal contributions, whether scored or assisted, have invited comparisons to Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold as two of the finest players in their position today.

With his two-season loan deal in Germany about to expire, the Madrid-born 21-year-old is set to return to his parent club where coach Zinedine Zidane could well consider him ready to be starter.

Despite not playing in the 2017-18 Champions League final against Liverpool while still at Madrid, Hakimi claimed a winners’ medal to become the first Moroccan to achieve that feat.

Hakimi was part of Morocco’s squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and with 28 caps to his name already, a long and successful career at club and international level beckons.

6. Abdelkrim Merry (“Krimau”)

A true pioneer in every sense. One of the first Arab footballers to star in Europe, the man nicknamed Krimau played his entire career in France. But unlike many North African footballers who followed in his footsteps, the Casablanca-born forward would end up representing Morocco, rather than his adopted home, fleetingly but to great acclaim.

His meagre international career of only 13 matches included his nation’s memorable participation at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where Morocco topped their group ahead of European heavyweights England, Poland and Portugal.

Against the latter, Krimau captured the imagination of the watching world, scoring once and generally running the Portuguese defense ragged as Morocco ran out 3-1 winners. The result confirmed them as the first African and Arab nation to progress to the knock-out stages of the World Cup, where they narrowly lost to eventual finalists West Germany.

At club level, Krimau started off at Bastia before playing for Lille, Toulouse, Metz, Strasbourg and Saint-Etienne, to name just a few of his clubs.

5. Noureddine Naybet

Younger fans may not be familiar with Naybet’s career, but the Moroccan international is to this day fondly remembered at Deportivo La Coruna, for whom he won one Spanish La Liga title, one Copa Del Rey and two Spanish Super Cups after joining from Nantes in 1996.

Naybet, capped 115 times by his country, and a veteran of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, had joined Portugal’s Sporting Club from Moroccan powerhouse Wydad before moving to France in 1993.

Rounded up his career in Europe in the Premier League with two seasons at Tottenham, but his heroics in Spain is what he will forever be revered for.

4. Mehdi Benatia

Yet another of the string of Moroccan internationals to excel in Europe, with his medal collection the envy of most footballers around the world.

The French-born Mehdi Benatia has spent the entirety of his career in Europe, starting out at Marseille before eventually moving to Udinese and then Roma in Italy.

It was at Bayern Munich and Juventus, however, that he hit the peak of his career, winning two Bundesliga and three Serie A titles respectively as well as enjoying German and Italian cup success.

Capped a wonderful career by leading his country to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, after an absence of 20 years from football’s ultimate stage.

3. Riyad Mahrez

The gifted Algerian winger’s two Premier League titles could not have been in more different circumstances. The first, with Leicester City in 2015-16, is widely regarded as one of football’s most unlikely triumphs, one that to this day stretches credibility. The second, in 2018-19, was part of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City side that claimed the Premier League trophy for the second year running.

All of which makes his relatively modest introduction to English football all the more remarkable.

After joining Leicester from Le Havre at the start of 2014, he helped the club to win the Championship a few months later and, after a difficult first season in the top flight, that miraculous Premier League title as well as the PFA Player’s Player of the Year for good measure.

Remains one of a select group of 10 players to have won English football’s biggest prize with two different clubs.

2. Rabah Madjer

One of the first Arab players to make an impact in Europe. And what an impact it was.

Rabeh Madjer gained worldwide acclaim with the equalizer for Algeria in their stunning 2-1 win over West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. That proved to be an inspiration for a stellar career.

After seven years at hometown club NA Hussein Dey, Madjer joined Racing Paris in 1983, before moving on two years later to Portuguese giants Porto, where he enjoyed the best and most memorable years of his career. Most famously, he scored a memorable back-heeled equalizer against Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup Final, which Porto eventually won 2-1.

Later that year he scored an extra-time winner against Penarol of Uruguay as Porto won the Intercontinental Cup (the predecessor to the FIFA Club World Cup) in Tokyo.

Three Portuguese league titles and 50 goals in six years confirm him as one of his nation’s, and Arab football’s, greatest exports.

1. Mohamed Salah

Arguably the most recognizable and greatest Middle Eastern and Arab footballer of all time. He excelled at Basel in the Swiss Super League, and then struggled to get playing time at Chelsea, before a spell in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma set him on the path for global domination.

Since signing for Jurgen Klopp’s team in the summer of 2017, he has become one of the world’s best players, his move coinciding with, even inspiring, Liverpool’s transformation from contenders to proven winners. In his first season, the man fans call the Egyptian King finished top of the Premier League scoring charts with a record 34 goals and played a leading role in Liverpool’s march to the Champions League final, where he famously was injured and substituted in a 3-1 loss. He also won FIFA’s Puskas award for a solo effort against Everton.

The following season, Salah retained the Golden Boot as Liverpool just missed out on the Premier League title, but made up for it with Champions League success, the forward scoring the opener in the 2-0 win over Tottenham in the final. This season, the 27-year-old Salah finds himself on the verge of winning the Premier League trophy, something Liverpool have not done in 30 years.

Having led Egypt — for whom he has scored 41 international goals — to the 2018 World Cup, his legendary status, at home and for Liverpool, is beyond debate.

This article was first published in Arab News

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